Our first candles have been lit and we are now in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah.
Put aside for a moment the latkes, sufganiyot and dreidels. It is important to remember that, at its heart, this holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple during the successful Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Greek empire of Antiochus IV in the 2nd century BCE.
Towards the end of the revolt, the Maccabees took possession of the Temple, ritually cleansed it and reestablished traditional Jewish worship there. What is more, they founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled a sovereign Jewish kingdom.
Thus, Hanukkah imparts important messages regarding values and commitment.
But there is a tendency today to universalize the Festival of Lights; to speak only in terms of generalized concepts of religious freedom or simply an undefined “light.” For example, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, have just put out a holiday message in which they declare that Hanukkah teaches us that “light always triumphs over darkness.”
This is simply not true. Hanukkah is a uniquely Jewish story of struggle for a specific belief system. The Maccabees fought for years against great odds; they refused to be swallowed up by Hellenistic values, which in significant ways are the very antithesis of Jewish values. They did battle not only with the Seleucids—who controlled Judea and defiled the Temple—but also with the Jews who were willing to become Hellenized; who were eager to be assimilated into an alien culture. Without the actions of the Maccabees, Judaism would have been diluted and then lost.
Here in Israel, we are on the cusp of finally establishing a new government. As we watch it take shape, I would suggest that there is a parallel with the Hanukkah story.
What I see is that, governed by a progressive left-wing coalition, Israel was losing her way. The new government, decried by some on the left, will set Israel back on the right path. A path that says Jewish values matter and this is a Jewish state. A path that makes it clear that the Land of Israel is ours and there is no place for anti-Zionists in the government.
One need not agree with every single item on the agenda of the new government to understand that it is taking the restorative path. And I note here that alarmists on the left have vastly exaggerated some of what the new coalition-in-the-making has proposed.
There is another aspect of the Hanukkah story as well: the miracle of the oil. I would suggest that Israel’s existence as a sovereign Jewish state in the 21st century is just such a miracle. One for which we should be grateful not just on Hanukkah, but every day. I began my celebration of Hanukkah with anticipation that I will soon be celebrating our new government as well.
After we light our candles, we sing “Al Hanissim”—“for the miracles.” We light the candles in remembrance of what the almighty has done for us: “For the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts, wrought by you, as well as for the wars you waged for our fathers in days of old, at this season.”
Let us be mindful and rejoice.
Arlene Kushner is a freelance writer, investigative journalist and author. She has written books on the PLO and Ethiopian Jews, and major reports on UNRWA. She is a co-founder of the Legal Grounds Campaign, which provides courses to law students regarding Israel’s legal rights in the Land of Israel. Her blog, focusing on political and security concerns in Israel, can be found at www.arlenefromisrael.info.
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